Pete LaCock, Bob Gibson, And Reality

The former Cubs first baseman, son of Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, had a brief career in the major leagues, during which he had a couple of run-ins with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Or did he?

Friday morning, David Laurila of FanGraphs posted this Q&A with former Cubs first baseman Pete LaCock in which LaCock relates two stories about his encounters with Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson.

The first story involves LaCock supposedly hitting a walkoff single against Gibson after he had been brought up from Double-A at age 19, to fill in for Billy Williams, who was sidelined with a broken ankle. The second is about a grand slam LaCock hit off Gibson which, according to LaCock, was "the last pitch he (Gibson) ever threw".

Pete LaCock is a good storyteller, but the two Gibson stories are 1) almost certainly not true and 2) partly true. Laurila even notes in his post:

The former first baseman is prone to embellishment — Retrosheet doesn’t see eye-to-eye to with some of his recollections — but his tales are certainly entertaining.

So let's examine the claims LaCock made.

LaCock went 3-for-10 with one home run and four RBI (the grand slam) against Gibson in his career. No game in LaCock's game logs matches the description he gives of the walkoff single when he was "19 years old" -- actually, that isn't true either, because LaCock was born January 17, 1952 and made his MLB debut September 6, 1972. He was obviously well past his 20th birthday on that date. Further, Billy Williams was indeed sidelined with a broken ankle -- in August and September 1974, more than two years after LaCock made his Cubs debut. LaCock did wind up filling in quite a bit for Billy in right field during that time.

Further, LaCock claims he was hit by a pitch by Gibson in a game in St. Louis "three weeks later". LaCock's career includes five HBPs. One of them was, in fact, by Gibson -- but it was at Wrigley Field September 27, 1974; LaCock had doubled off Gibson and scored in the second inning. By the time LaCock came up again, leading off the fourth, the Cardinals were leading 3-1. Gibson plunked LaCock, but there's no indication that was anything other than a random occurrence.

The grand slam story is true, mostly. It came in this game. The Cubs were actually leading 7-6 (not 6-6, as it was in the story) when LaCock came to the plate with the bases loaded (and not with nobody out -- there were actually two out); he hit the grand slam to give the Cubs an 11-6 lead. But it wasn't Gibson's last MLB pitch; as you can see by the PBP of that game, Gibson stayed in to retire Don Kessinger to end that inning, then was removed the following inning.

Laurila is correct; the stories are indeed entertaining. If only they matched up with the facts.

There's one more story Pete LaCock used to like to tell; maybe he still does. See the uniform number on the photo? 23... well, that one's now retired for someone a bit more famous. (LaCock also wore Nos. 24 and 25 during his Cubs career.) Pete used to say he was the last Cub to wear No. 23 before Ryne Sandberg. Unfortunately, that isn't true either, as you can see from this list on Kasey's Cubs By The Numbers No. 23 page.

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